Four improvements with TD4

Bike brands spend a lot of time obsessing over details that distinguish their product from others. They hire PR firms, bring in R&D to discuss and verify the finer points, hire athletes to say I ride fast because my gear is better than other peoples – or something close to that. 

The general understanding is there are the other guys’ products (Bad!) and our products (Good! Better! Or, most audaciously best!) Ultimately, this is a bit of a faulty pursuit. Everyone is bound by a certain, more than marginal, amount of confirmation bias. Nobody will ever fully be able to view their thing and another person’s thing – in this case bikes – at an objective comparison. 

Even journalists, who can be quite fair, will still have some degree of those biases through the relationships that are impossible not to form. That is not to say this is necessarily a bad thing – if a company develops good will with journalists they also are likely to be good people who are passionate about bikes and therefore makes better bikes – but it is to say the comparisons might not be perfect. 

What is better, in my opinion, is to compare iterations of largely the same thing from the same company. Sure, this might not always be the most impactful article. If you were not a previous buyer, you might not seek out a story on why one product is better than that other product if you have not heard or experienced either of them. But for those previous buyers, this is really crucial information and information that is incredibly sharable. 

So here is something shareable for you all! Four reasons why, after 4,000 miles, I find the Trail Donkey 4 to be better than the Trail Donkey 3, a bike I rode for nearly 30,000 miles.How do those bikes compare to others? I don’t know, I don’t ride other bikes. But I do know I have had fun on the TD3 and more fun on the TD4. 

The list of improvements

1. A longer head tube

You do not need to slam your stem. I repeat, you do not need to slam your stem. But, it does look better, if you can handle it. If a bike has a longer headtube, it can be easier to handle the proverbial swag that comes with that small number of spacers. 

Generally, I see two more specific reasons why I have liked the longer head tube on the TD4. One, it’s a gravel bike, so back comfort on a long haul is important. Low is rarely comfortable. Two, lower is not always more aero. Often the best aerodynamic depositions, even on the road, bring the hands up higher and further out, with the saddle pushed back. The higher your hands, the longer the stem can be. 

That, from an aesthetics perspective, is a win. The other win is the integrated 120mm stem that can be fitted on the bike to give me a comfortable and aerodynamic position in the hoods, while still being able to handle the bike well in the drops on trails since it is not too low in the front end. While that is good for something like a criterium, being pinned down in the front completely throws off the weight distribution needed on the tech. 

My guess is that most of you out there will favor tech to crits. Therefore, this is a win for the new rig. 

2. Sliding dropout system

I think the number one question I get about the bike is why the slider? The answer is easy: changing wheel volume is a bigger deal than you think and the reason why is a fixed chain-stay. This is probably the most technical upgrade, but bare with me, the more whimsical “likes” are on the way. 

The sliders allow for two things. One, with changes in tire size often comes the need to change chainrings. Bigger tire equals a longer roll out with the same gear due to the increased wheel diameter. Smaller tire equals a shorter roll out. Furthermore, when I go big on the tire, it is likely there will be steep hills involved. Thus, when a chainring is changed, often the chain needs changing too. 

With the slider, a change in position, which would coincide with an increase in tire size (bigger tires would require more clearance which would mean the slider would be further back), would also effectively make up for the chain ring size, meaning the chain can stay the same. Obviously there are limits. If you are changing from a 46t to 36t, you would need to have a change of chain, but 44t to 40t or even a 46t to a 40t might be achievable. 

On the TD3 I would regularly change chains when I went from my 50t chainring to a 44t, or a 46t to a 40t. That was ok, but it still added steps and complications. 

The other big thing is the slider is slanted which, generally, preserves the all-important height of the bottom bracket. With the increase in tire size is an increase in height of the bottom bracket since a bigger tire will sit higher than a smaller one. A taller wheelbase is also not desirable when going bigger with the tires since a higher BB makes the bike “pitch” more, decreasing stability and handling over rough or uneasy surfaces. Since the slider slopes up, a big tire paired with an adjustment in the slider position means the change in BB height will be mitigated and stability will be preserved. 

These are both things that allow for the bike to go rowdy mode much easier and feel better when it’s there. TD3, for all its charms, was slider-less so the options and feel was more restrained. An easy, simple solution for a small tweak that can do lots for a bikes ride feel.

3. Room for mud AND rubber

Guess what, gravel races are muddy sometimes. Rodeo labs have, however, known this and have allowed for ample room to clear the mud when things get bogged down since the actual Unbound mud year of 2015. 

Yet, in terms of clearance, more is almost always better. Just look at the Lotus track bike for team GB. 

Recently, the industry at large has started to take notice with bikes opening up their frame to accommodate more clearance and bigger tires, but with a head start Rodeo Labs was able to refine it even more. More clearance, geometry to account for it, and a nimbler bike even with that increased clearance. 

Magic – or, at least that is what those who have been picking mud out of their frame as I cruised by might have been thinking. This one, I’ll admit, is one element where some comparison seems apt. Mud, after all, has been all the rage this season in gravel and with complaints from all around about the  ability for equipment to handle these adverse conditions, its good to reiterate that some equipment is just fine and getting better. 

4. The handling “vibes” 

The last of the elements that I have loved is, to be honest, is one that seems to be a menagerie of all the others. Technically speaking, I am not sure what the cause is, all I know is that the bike feels just better at handling technical features on the road and trails.

That is not to say the TD3 was bad. It was more than competent at all of those different things, but really only great at being a gravel bike with medium to large gravel tires. The 38-45mm range was the sweet spot. On the road, tires in the 28-32 mm range where fine, but at times the traction would be limited during tight corners, with the long chainstay making the turning radius something that would need to be considered and sweeping turns at speed, and I mean professional criterium speed, would sometime cause a bit of a drift. Nothing major, but not perfect.

On trail, as mentioned above, tires in the 2.1-2.2 range would be somewhat pitchy compared to what was the typical feel with a middleweight tire, because the bottom bracket was high and the chainstay length, in that configuration, was a bit shorter than ideal circumstances. With these constraints, I always felt the most nimble on the TD3 riding trail with a mullet configuration or just 650b wheels. 

That is not the same breakdown with the TD4. It is sublimely stable with big 700c 2.2 tires, and nimble on road descents. Whatsmore, with those mid range gravel tires – I have been particularly loving a 40mm slick to file tread with this bike – it has the same great handling on dirt, mixing stability with the finesse. An attribute of TD3 I always enjoyed. It just also does the road and trail better, with a slightly lower BB, slightly longer head tube and the adjustability afforded with the slider.

My conclusion

With these four things, and some other little benefits like weight and the aesthetics of the frame, the TD4 is a very meaningful upgrade. It loses nothing that the TD3 had, and adds scores of features to the build that brings the bike into the discussion of best gravel bikes around. While that is a discussion that I think is interesting to have, it is not one I am going to make now. What I can tell you is that for these two bikes built by the same company and with the same spirit, one is frankly much better than then other. Even if I still love and ride them both.

Back to the bike, Chapter 1: Just Trying to get through

My name is Brynn- I am a travel nurse, an adventurer, and endlessly curious. To balance the stress of working in the hospital, I seek solace in the outdoors- hiking, rock climbing, and of course, cycling. Over the course of the pandemic however, my desire to ride my bike almost disappeared. Motivation was difficult to find and the idea of finding new routes, people to ride with, or dealing with a mechanical seemed insurmountable. While this story is about bikes, it is also just a story about me, learning to cope as a nurse in this world. It is a story that illustrates what I lost in myself and what I have come to find again, through the lens of finding my way back to the saddle. It is a story of loss, fear, and grief, but also a story of hope, growth and finding joy again. And of course, a return to the bike as a way of healing.

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The Rodeo Podcast: A field recording with Bobby Wintle

and Drew at Rodeo Labs talks about launching the Show Pony

Part one of the podcast picks up with Logan Jones-Wilkins rambling through the middle of America. After leaving the muddy grass field at the Rule of Three in Bentonville, Arkansas, Logan was on his way to Emporia, Kansas to race Unbound Gravel. With time to spare and capitalizing on his proximity to Stillwater, Oklahoma, an idea was born– a Rodeo Labs Podcast field recording. The first field recording is a ride in Bobby Wintle’s 4-Runner. Logan experiences some of Bobby’s favorite roads, which didn’t even make this years course!

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Rodeo Adventure Diaries: Strade Bianche

Logan Jones-Wilkins

Over my spring break I had $1,000 dollars of flight credit to use, built up from four postponed trips. After so many false starts, it was time to go again – and go I have. First up, Siena for the Strade Bianche. For the trip, I put away my Instagram and my updates and I turned to my journal. Over dinners and downtime, I wrote down my sensations. These are the moments that captured the trip for me, and I hope you enjoy the “crudo” distillation of my week in Tuscany!

March 3, 2022 — Firenze Centrale, Florence, Tuscany

People seem to flow here. In scarfs, overcoats, down puffers, and other regal regalia built for temperatures colder than now, the Italian masses move with effortless intention. In twos, and threes, and four, and sometimes ones but nearly never fives, people would come, and people would go in a swirl of the sing-song language of the land.

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Oh, What a Day!

Storytellers are architects.

Our craft is about projections, blueprints, and framework. While our products seem final in their own context, it is up to us to first enact the scene before scrupulously building and maintain our creations. No matter what we say to explain away our decisive power to dictate our own perspective, that poetic justice is ultimately undeniable. If taught to work around our bias and prejudice, the power to scrutinize, probe and vet is the only path to free and fair constructions of our products. Products which are one of the few things that allow people to connect with thoughts, emotions and revelations that may yet escape their personal perspectives.

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The Grandest Tour: A Class in Productive Loneliness

Loneliness is such a fickle thing.

For what seems like an overwhelming majority of our population, loneliness is a wasteful feeling. Loneliness is mental destitution; a dead-end street on the front stoop of depression, anxiety, and even death. All around the world, millions face these dead-end streets, and all too many never escape. Over the last year I have had my fair share of trips down that path. There have been the soggy winter rides, the classic case of college isolation, the solo Valentine’s Day dinner, and, of course, the never-ending quarantine in a no-stoplight town.  

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Tonight, I Am Full

By Logan Jones-Wilkins

Written June 1st, 2020, edited and published June 6th.

The following piece is a written reflection of the Rodeo Adventure Labs sponsored athlete and contributor Logan Jones-Wilkins. These sentiments and perspectives are that of the author and should not be viewed as the opinion of Rodeo Adventure Labs, although we support our athlete’s choice to use his position to voice his opinions.

Tonight, I am full.

Full of life from the purity of nature; full of friendship from time spent with an old friend; and full of fitness from the miles spent careening around the mountains of Arkansas. Yet, now as I sit in my living room at 1 AM Monday, June 1st struggling to find an elusive sleep, I am also filled with sadness. Sadness for my black and brown compatriots who still live in fear of those who are charged with protecting them; sadness for the men and women who have lost their lives too soon and their families who have not been given the justice they deserve; and sadness for all the loss racism has caused in this country that I have always called home.

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Learning to Create

My post season break after cross not only started before Thanksgiving (States was on November 23rd) but lasted a bit longer than it had in recent memory, about 2 months.  That meant I had no direction, commitment, whatever in December and most of January.  Having a new position at work helped that, and I went back to the homeland (Iowa) at the end of December – riding there at that time, well I wasn’t interested.  I started the season off on February 3rd, I had checkpoints along the way, a far off goal, and then another cyclocross season to ramp up for.

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Storm Racer

It is storm season in the Delta. Every spring here in the fertile flatlands of northeast Arkansas, with the planting of the cotton comes the yearly dance with satellite storms. For any cycling enthusiast, these storms provide a dynamic setting for any adventure. One minute, blue skies line the horizon and the wind is at your back. The next moment, you make a right-hand turn and get slammed by a 20 mile per hour cross wind with a blueish grey shelf of clouds barring down on you like an airborne grim reaper. Read More Last Monday, I experienced this challenge myself out on a recovery ride with my little brother. As we wheeled out of the driveway in our 900-person town of Wilson, Arkansas, blue skies were overhead and the omnipresent wind which has ruined many days was nowhere to be found. Only after we left the town of Wilson and entered the endless expanse of pan flat cotton fields of  the Delta, could we see the dark clouds on the horizon. Tully – my little brother who tends to actually think through things – questioned our choice to head towards the storm, but I refused; I wouldn’t be scared away by some angry clouds. The skies above us were bright and my good energy would not be stopped. Tully and I bumbled along the rutted county road that lead north of Wilson to the town of Marie, cracking jokes and enjoying the fresh air. Yet, up ahead what had been a distant dark cloud had slowly morphed into a panoramic display of stormy fury. Lightning cut through the blackening background as thunder rolled off of the clouds that were beginning to bare down on us. As we turned away from the storm, a little trickle of fear started to wiggle its way up my spine. Over my left shoulder sat our house under the distant cluster of trees and water towers while over my right shoulder sat a cloud that only seemed to grow. As the sky began to turn green and our impending doom became clear, we made a quick left onto a rutted gravel road and pointed our wheels home. We were off to the races. Whether it is the lack of competition in my life lately, or the lack of anything at all, the impetus of the fear of the storm was the only spark I needed to get the proverbial competitive juices flowing. For the last two-ish months I had been without competition for the first time I can remember. From rec soccer, to cross country skiing, to the last half decade on the bike, my life has been dictated by how far I was from my next start line. At first the void of races was a relief, a change of pace I wasn’t familiar with. Then, as the days became weeks and the weeks months, I began to feel stuck..Stuck in a house I have never lived in, stuck a thousand miles away from where I want to be, stuck with more schoolwork than I knew what to do with, and stuck without the tether that had anchored me for years. I even tried to write a post for this journal multiple times only to be foiled explaining the very “sticky” situation I just described. Everything was just…off. Yet, as I took off down that gravel road with my brother in tow, that stuck feeling evaporated into a euphoric smile on my face as forgotten adrenaline pumped through my legs. In the face of the roaring wind that gathered behind us and spits of water that hit my arms, I was giddy with excitement and joy, bouncing wildly down a dirt road covered with baseball sized stones. In the distance was a lonely tractor shed which served as the only possible shelter for miles. With the house still four miles away in an ever-darkening distance, the metal roof and its many ton John Deere cotton farming machinery would have to do as our race with the storm moved to its critical phase.
As I was sitting under that tin roof huddled behind a ten-foot-tall tire, I could help but thinking how fun that little race had been. I had to be present, focused, and powerful instead of living a life where time was at a standstill, yet also seemed to be slipping away constantly. In the week since that ride, I have felt much better on and off the bike. Although races still may be many months away, my little race with the storm gave me that feeling of carnal exhilaration that I’ve been missing. Going forward, I am going to be chasing that feeling. Maybe not the same fear of a possibly life-threatening storm barring down on me, but feelings, nonetheless. 

Rodeo Labs on the Bicycle Media Podcast

Where do Donkeys come from? Where does Rodeo Labs come from? How do we know if our bikes are good? Why are there so few reviews of our bikes out there? What types of customers do we try to collaborate with? What makes Rodeo successful? @_bicyclemedia_ just posted a podcast with Rodeo’s founder Stephen Fitzgerald where we talked through these sorts of questions and other topics from our history. Look up the podcast on your favorite podcast client like iTunes or Spotify or it is embedded here below for easy access.